Cindy Mitchell: Opening Doors Into History
Newberry Trustee Cindy Mitchell tells the story of how her son’s family history project for school brought her closer to the Newberry and to her ancestors.
I had lived near the Newberry for three years, yet had never walked in the door. Then my son was assigned a project in eighth grade to create a family history. I had a few names and some family stories that I wasn’t sure were true, but that was all.
Somewhere I had heard that the Newberry was great for genealogy. In those days, the building was still black and covered with ivy and felt rather ominous. But when I walked in, everyone was very friendly. With the help of Newberry staff, I learned that my husband’s great, great grandmother was Nancy Ward, the “Queen of the Cherokees,” and had married a man from Germany. I found that both my husband’s and my families were part of the forced migration of the Cherokees to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears.” One of my relatives helped found Dartmouth College, and cousins I didn’t know existed are living in Oklahoma. At one point, I couldn’t help exclaiming out loud in the Newberry reading room when I read that several generations ago, one of my husband’s aunts had married one of my uncles!
I got hooked, and more than 20 years later, I am still hooked on genealogy and on the Newberry. You can sit at a computer and get dates and statistics, but you need a place like the Newberry, with its staff and collections, to understand who people were, what happened to them, and what their lives were like. My ancestors have become more than names; they are opening doors into history.